Spatial facilitation by a high-performance dragonfly target-detecting neuron

Karin Nordstrom, Douglas Bolzon, David O'Carroll

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    35 Citations (Scopus)


    Many animals visualize and track small moving targets at long distances-be they prey, approaching predators or conspecifics. Insects are an excellent model system for investigating the neural mechanisms that have evolved for this challenging task. Specialized small target motion detector (STMD) neurons in the optic lobes of the insect brain respond strongly even when the target size is below the resolution limit of the eye. Many STMDs also respond robustly to small targets against complex stationary or moving backgrounds. We hypothesized that this requires a complex mechanism to avoid breakthrough responses by background features, and yet to adequately amplify the weak signal of tiny targets. We compared responses of dragonfly STMD neurons to small targets that begin moving within the receptive field with responses to targets that approach the same location along longer trajectories. We find that responses along longer trajectories are strongly facilitated by a mechanism that builds up slowly over several hundred milliseconds. This allows the neurons to give sustained responses to continuous target motion, thus providing a possible explanation for their extraordinary sensitivity.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)588-592
    Number of pages5
    JournalBiology Letters
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 23 Aug 2011


    • Hypercomplex
    • Motion vision
    • Response decay
    • Response onset
    • Spatial facilitation
    • Target detection


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